High Tension’s third album is a fierce piece of work, filled with the sound of frustration, fear, disgust, horror, hatred and – yes – rage, spewed up and moulded into the Melbourne quartet’s most extreme statement yet.
While tradition would suggest heavy acts only lose their intensity with each record, the opposite is true of High Tension. “This was always the direction we were heading into.” Says Utomo.
After forming in Melbourne in 2012, High Tension’s debut album, the following year’s Death Beat, was nominated for an ARIA Award for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal album, while its follow-up, 2015’s Bully, received widespread critical acclaim and saw the group hit the road in support of acts such as Refused.
The new High Tension however, is a different beast to the one that released those records, thanks to the presence of guitarist and songwriter Mike Deslandes and drummer Lauren Hammel, who both joined after the release of Bully in 2015. (Co-founding bassist Matt Weston completes the line-up). In that regard, Utomo views Purge as a resetting of the High Tension blueprint.
“It was inevitable that we were going to produce a record unlike our previous work; with Lauren and Mike joining the band, our natural response was to reshape our sound.”
While acknowledging that some of her lyrics touch on themes concerning the impacts of colonialism and oppression, Utomo’s main focus on the record is the anti-communist purge in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966 – during which hundreds of thousands of members of the communist party were slaughtered by the military and Muslim groups under the orders of General Suharto just prior to his seizing power of the country – and the intergenerational trauma that still permeates Indonesian society. “In the past I’ve touched on that theme, but on this album it’s referenced more tirelessly”.
The band commissioned Melbourne artist Loretta Lizzio to paint the album’s cover, a striking image of a snake shedding its skin that tied in beautifully with the themes of Purge and the rebirth of the band.
With Deslandes engineering and producing the album – bassist Matt Weston directs all the band’s videos, reinforcing the outfit’s DIY ethic – the quartet were able to take their time in the studio. Tracked at Melbourne’s Sing Sing South in May 2017, Utomo worked on vocals with Deslandes over the following months at The Aviary in Abbotsford.
The final product sounds as tormented as Utomo’s subject matter and the band are justifiably proud of the results.